Hello Friends and Neighbors,
Both chambers of the Legislature are in the middle of an eight-day stretch of floor action. This is when, with few exceptions, we spend the entire day at our desks on the floor of the Senate chamber and take action on bills forwarded by the Senate committees. If you remember the reference in my previous report about how bills begin to stall or “die” at a certain point in the session… well, this is another of those points.
A bill that doesn’t die in a policy or budget committee goes to the Rules Committee, which serves as a gatekeeper; its members decide which bills are pulled to the Senate’s voting calendar. A lot of legislation that doesn’t die in Rules ends up dying on the voting calendar when the session ends. And a lot of the bills passed by the Senate die at some point in the House. That’s why it’s newsworthy when a piece of legislation makes it through even one chamber – as two of my bills did on Tuesday, the first day of floor action.
One is SB 5620, which would require the state Health Care Authority to be much more accountable for how Medicaid dollars are spent in our state (Medicaid is the largest public-assistance program in Washington, serving some 2 million people). The second is SB 5607, which would bring more accountability to policy discussions about the homeless situation by improving the accuracy of the “point-in-time” county-level counts of homeless populations. Details about both are in this news release.
While the list of bills that are still “alive” has grown shorter, the work hours have become longer. The debates and voting lasted almost until 11 p.m. Wednesday and past 9 p.m. yesterday; we’ll be in session tomorrow too, but probably not Sunday. Tuesday is the final day for floor action on Senate bills unless they’re “necessary to implement the budget,” as I mentioned last week.
The Senate passed several dozen bills during the first half of this stage of floor action, The majority of the bills passed are not controversial and were adopted with unanimous or near-unanimous votes; they ranged in topics from “blockchain” (SB 5544) and “biochar” (SB 5961) to the ceremonial carrying of firearms on the Capitol campus (SB 5690) and a pilot program to interest high-school students in nursing careers, to ease the nursing shortage (SB 5892). The rest of the measures passed in the past four days were more contentious for one reason or another, and the vote counts reflected that.
Public safety: a win, a loss and… a different kind of win
Two of the contentious bills passed this week involve public safety – an issue I and my Republican colleagues have made a priority this year. A third also would make our state safer, but it was anything but controversial. Here’s the rundown:
Republicans lead on passage of important public-safety legislation: I’ve reported more than once on the policy mistakes made in 2021 that have hindered law-enforcement agencies from apprehending suspected criminals. The clear public-safety “win” this week came Wednesday night in the form of legislation that would begin to correct those errors, and the bill would not have passed without Republican leadership.
My recent Rational Steps policy paper noted preliminary data showing nearly 1,000 more violent crimes were committed in Seattle in 2021 compared to 2020, while in King County, the reported number of gunshot victims – including victims of shootings involving criminal gangs – doubled from just 4 years earlier, hitting an all-time high.
I have to believe the violent-crime numbers are up because the criminals know officers are unable to respond to 9-1-1 calls and other situations the way they could have just one year ago. The concern goes beyond apprehending criminals: the changes made in 2021 also limit the tools officers have when dealing with a person experiencing a mental-health crisis.
After our side succeeded in strengthening SB 5919, to allow police to take certain actions (like vehicle pursuits) to detain someone as long as a standard of “reasonable suspicion” is reached, we also had to make sure the bill passed. It was hard to figure out why only 10 of the 28 majority senators joined us, for a final vote of 31-18 in favor. This bill doesn’t resolve all of the public-safety concerns they created in 2021, but it’s a move back in the right direction.
Majority’s move against firearm owners would create false sense of security: There are times when I am reminded of that bumper sticker… “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” The “loss” on public safety this week was one of those times, when the majority called a vote on its bill to essentially ban firearm magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
There would be exceptions, like for someone who owned such magazines before the effective date of in the proposed law – but that doesn’t change the fundamental flaw in SB 5078.
The supporters of SB 5078 invoke the memory of mass shootings around the nation and claim their proposed limit would reduce deaths and injuries in our state. They ignore the concept of criminal intent and cling to the naïve notion that criminals would comply with such a limit. If the bill were to become law, who should we expect to be better armed – the criminals, or law-abiding firearm owners? It would create a false sense of security.
I couldn’t believe it when one of my Democratic colleagues – a woman – basically dismissed another senator’s suggestion that women would view this bill as restricting their ability to defend themselves and their families. (Click here for those remarks, they’re about 1 minute in) As a woman who is a law-abiding firearm owner, I suggested in a kind way that she didn’t know what she was talking about. Click here (or on the image) for the video of my response.
Nearly 75% of those responding to my recent online survey question about Second Amendment rights expressed the view that a) there are either too many restrictions on firearm owners already, or b) the focus should be on criminals, and law-abiding firearm owners should be left alone. SB 5078 fails on both counts, yet all 28 members of the Democratic majority voted in support.
Another vote for stronger DUI law: The passage of SB 5054 did not depend on Republicans, so it was a different kind of “win” than the vote to approve the bill that addressed the anti-police reforms of 2021. This time the majority Democrats were right there with us, on the issue of addressing repeat DUI offenders. This bill would allow a prosecutor to “look back” 15 years, not just 10 years, to see if there is a history of impaired driving that might cause a new DUI arrest to be charged as a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
A similar version of this bill easily cleared the Senate in 2021 but died in the House, for no apparent reason. Now the bill has been strengthened with the addition of a drug-treatment sentencing option, and it passed unanimously later Wednesday night. Will the House finally follow the Senate’s lead this year, and help get repeat DUI offenders off our roads?
Why all the unnecessary fees in majority’s transportation proposal?
Early this week the Democrats who chair the transportation committees in the Senate and House unveiled a big package of projects — $16.8 billion worth, over 16 years – and a big revenue package to go with it. The major details are in this news report.
The transportation chairs are both from the Puget Sound area, so while they promise $1 billion for replacing the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River… but nothing for studying a third bridge, as my SB 5934 would require… their package is centered on Puget Sound projects. But the larger problem with their approach is the funding.
My Democratic colleagues clearly aren’t blind to how gas prices have already shot up under the current administration in Washington, D.C. They know raising the state portion of the gas tax to fund their projects would make Democrats very unpopular. Instead, they want to raise a whole bunch of fees – like a 75% hike for the “enhanced” part of an enhanced driver’s license (that lets you cross into Canada without a passport), driving it up to $96 or $110 depending on whether the EDL is good for six or eight years! And $50 for a new license plate instead of $10 – a 500% jump. They’d pull $2 billion from the general-fund revenues, and also slap a tax on fuel exports (meaning the refineries in Skagit County), which might be unconstitutional. And believe it or not, their funding approach could also drive up the cost of natural gas and telephone landlines!
There’s no question our state has a lot of transportation needs. The “Connecting Washington” package from 2015 couldn’t cover everything that was on the board seven years ago, and new needs have cropped up since then. I would be happy to talk about a new set of transportation projects, as well as better maintenance of the roads and bridges. But Republicans would fund these investments without any new taxes and fees.
We could get to the same $16.8 billion as the Democrats simply by repurposing tax revenue from vehicle sales, and taking a smaller portion from the general-fund revenue. An annual $500 million transfer over four years equals the $2 billion that the Democrats want now, in a way that also keeps more of the surplus available for tax relief this year!
Yours in service,
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